Danah Abdullah
Last updated: 21 October, 2011

The Misunderstood Concept – an interview with Design Jordan

The terms “designer” and “architect” are often misunderstood in the Arab world and designers are often frustrated by having to explain the significance of their profession. Luckily, the region is seeing a handful of design studios specialising in product and industrial design popping up in major cities. One studio in particular is taking design in Amman to a whole new level by educating students and implementing green design programs into their mix. I had the opportunity to discuss design, education and innovation in the Arab world with Therwah Abdelhaq, head of Product Design at Design Jordan, a product design studio focused on product innovation in Amman.

Danah: Tell us more about Design Jordan – what is it, who is the brainchild behind it, and why is it important to Jordan and the Arab region…

Therwah: Design Jordan is a visionary design house that focuses on Product design and innovation. We try to create positive social change through product innovation. Design Jordan is based in Amman, our comprehensive approach enables us to create culturally sensitive products and solutions that improve the personal and professional lives of everyone, no matter where they are. The chairperson is Architect Meisa Batayneh, and the board members are Nuqul Group, Sayegh Group, Kaddb, Maani Prefab, Petra industries and al Sabeel. Design Jordan was born out of necessity, the necessity to find solutions through design whether it for individuals or companies. Our products also focus on Arabic culture through as they are inspired by our culture and heritage. 

Danah: What are the types of services you provide?

Therwah: Design Jordan is a client based service provider. We respond to the client’s brief and find solutions which elevate their business to a whole new level in order to help them reach new markets. Our services vary in form: we work on anything from a new design for a water bottle, furniture design, display shelf to developing a mobile clinic or a self service kiosk. Recently, we launched a new commercial arm, which focuses on products created by Design Jordan and which respond directly to the Jordanian and Arab market. Such products are designed for a large population and not just for a higher income market.

Danah: What are some of the projects undertaken in Jordan by your studio?

Therwah: We have several types of projects including:

King podiumHoly water bottleSelf service kioskMobile clinicPots and Pans PackagingBent wood furnitureCoffee cartBus stop shelterPoint of sale displayExhibition booth designFaucet designCoffee pot design

Danah: What are your thoughts on green design? And how do you feel this concept will be seen in the Arab world?

Therwah: Through the process of design, we think about manufacturability and to reduce the amount of materials that are harmful to the environment. Design Jordan will establish a new branch that focuses on recyclable materials called “Useful from Un-useful” UFU. The goal is to design and produce from recyclable materials. This concept will create awareness among the Jordanian people in order for them to make use of the stuff they throw away, and to be part of an environmentally conscious community.

Danah: How do you plan on introducing a humanitarian design approach to the city of Jordan?

Therwah: We’ve implemented a humanitarian design approach when we designed the bus stops and the new police huts around Amman. We designed these with the public in mind, their behaviours and other factors including weather and the heritage of the city . Currently, our designs aren’t exactly a fit with the way Amman’s streets are designed, however, this is something we want to consider in the future.

Danah: In terms of the education system in Jordan and within the Arab world as a whole, do you feel students who are interested in industrial and product design and architecture have enough resources and training or do they have to seek it elsewhere by traveling abroad to Europe or North America? If so, what types of projects would you like to see spring up?

Therwah: Unfortunately, Jordan and the Arab countries are immature when it comes to industrial design. I have identified two major reasons: – There is no focus on research, therefore it’s very difficult to identify problems and find solutions. – The Arab world is not an industrial region. Product design is very much related to manufacturing capability, therefore, we have to manufacture our products somewhere else. Due to the reasons stated above, schools and universities believe that there is no demand for Industrial Design, however, we believe the opposite, that there is a need. In my personal experience, I had to study Product and Transport design in the UK, as the level of teaching in this field in Jordan and across the Arab world was not as advanced as the education and training I would receive in Europe or North America.

This is why we at Design Jordan offer an internship program to students who wish to pursue a career in Product Design and for students of Architecture who are also interested in the field. Product Design and Architecture are closely related as they follow the same process, however, a few weeks of training for an Architect will make him/her a better product designer.

Danah: What has your experience been like as a designer in Jordan?

Therwah: I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Product and Transport Design three years ago from Coventry University in the UK. Since then, I have had the opportunity to join Design Jordan and I feel that through this experience, I have learnt a lot, because it gave me the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of design which translated into the office environment as well. I am attached to my job. This job will never suit any designer anywhere in the world if they don’t have the passion for it, it’s all about fun and creativity!

Danah: Do you see any competitors to your firm?

Therwah: Competition is always healthy, it will urge you to improve your work and to launch better products every time. Jordan has about 2-3 design studios, one of them focuses on Promotional items and giveaways while the other focuses on Fashion design and products targeting a high income market so I don’t see any direct competition to our studio, however, I’m looking forward for it!

Danah: What up-and-coming designers in the Arab world are currently attracting your eye?

Therwah: We are always attracted to designers with a good background in hand sketching, in search of solutions, explorers and who consider product design as part of their lives and not just a job. We’re always looking for designers across various disciplines including architecture, graphic design, 3D Modeling…they have a similar way of thinking to product designers.

Find out more www.designjordan.com

Originally Published in Kalimat Magazine, Issue 01, Spring 2011